Saturday, September 10, 2011

"The Dancehall"

After Lou paid off his debts he went to the cheaper bars, the ones without pretty girls. He got into a drunken fight over a game of pool but nobody cared because he didn't hurt anybody, he just pushed and yelled a lot. In another place, however, he tried to steal a bottle of whiskey and got hit in the face by a bouncer. He spent the weekend in jail, nursing his eye and playing checkers with the two fat cops who were sometimes nice to him.

He was sober when he got out. His monthly cheque was waiting in his mailbox and he knew he couldn't handle the really cheap bars, at least not right now, so he cashed the cheque and went to the dancehall.

The girl with the orange dress was on the floor, easy to spot. This was the woman who Lou liked. She was an exaggerated pin-up, just this side of ridiculous, a starved man's fantasy after years in barracks, hospital wards, and drunk tanks. His buddy Corman had said "Nobody looks like that for real," but he and Corman weren't friends anymore.

Smiling in the toothy, inappropriate way she did when she danced with somebody, the woman was clutching the back of a thug who swayed awkwardly beside the stage. She deserved better than the veterans and dock workers, Lou had decided. Better than the customers who were barely more respectable than him with his scuffed shoes and his frayed suit jacket.

Lou felt like he was spinning and his mouth was dry. He wobbled to the bar, timing it so he could cross paths with her -- Suzette, her name was -- and she put her hand over her eye and said "elegant shiner!" while swaying into the restroom. He touched his face and looked sideways into the bar mirror, where he could see the thug lighting a cigarette and watching him.

Later, after a few drinks, Lou had stopped thinking about his eye and the thug and he was looking straight into the mirror, watching the girl in the bursting orange dress dance in a haze behind the bottles.

"Everybody loves Suzette," said the bartender. He leaned close and Lou could smell his toothpaste. "She's a kook, though."

"How so?"

"Says she's from Mars and came here by accident. Says she's going home on the next flight out of here." The bartender shrugged. "Everybody knows she's a kook."

"Nothing surprises me," said Lou, "I just got out of jail."

"You should have taken a shower first." Apparently this was the last drink Lou would get here.

He managed to grab the girl's arm on his way out. "I hear you're from outer space," he said, and the thug punched him right below the ear, professional. After that, in the drunk tank, the two fat cops held his hat just out of reach while Lou jumped up and tried to grab for it.

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